The latest episode of The Mandalorian, “Chapter 23: The Spies”, included some incredibly strong threads and connective ties to other material, including both Legends and canon, as it drew on plot lines from the books and the sequel trilogy.
It’s all setting up for the return of Thrawn, in the more immediate view, and the rise of the First Order, in the longer view, and it’s some of the best developments this show has made in connecting to the larger timeline. There will probably be a lot of questions about these matters, though, so let’s explore what it all means and why it’s such a big deal.
There are obviously spoilers ahead for the episode, so proceed with caution.
Pellaeon is the path to Thrawn
It was announced last weekend that Lars Mikkelson will be playing Grand Admiral Thrawn in Ahsoka, and we even got our first look at the character in the trailer. In this episode, we hear the Imperial Shadow Council discussing his return. There’s a pertinent conversation between Moff Gideon and Captain Pellaeon, discussing Thrawn.
Pellaeon: “But that strength must not be wasted. Grand Admiral Thrawn’s return will herald in the reemergence of our military, and provide commandant Hux enough time to deliver on Project Necromancer.”
Gideon: “Captain Pellaeon, you always speak with much authority, and yet I see, once again, that Grand Admiral Thrawn is missing from your delegation. Any word on when he will be able to participate in the Shadow Council?”
Pellaeon: “With respect, our one hope for success lies upon the secrecy of his return.”
Gideon: “Captain, secrets are my stock-in-trade. I hear whispers, from one end of the galaxy to another, and never a word of Thrawn. You have spoken of his imminent return. Perhaps it’s time we look to new leadership.”
We, of course, know that Thrawn’s return is indeed imminent, but these Imperial warlords are power-hungry and looking for any opportunity to seize leadership. The strongest connective tissue to Thrawn, though, is Pellaeon himself, whose appearance in this episode is a really huge deal.
Gilad Pellaeon was first introduced in Timothy Zahn’s 1991 novel Heir to the Empire, which also introduced Thrawn and remains one of the most influential Star Wars stories ever published. Pellaeon commanded some Imperial remnants in the post-Endor, New Republic era and came into league with Thrawn, who upon returning from the unknown regions assumed command of the remaining Imperial factions. Pellaeon served as his right-hand man throughout the ensuing war, and as Thrawn’s forces amassed mostly in secret, the New Republic was left unready for what came next. Thrawn launched successive strikes on key New Republic worlds, and he brought their government to the brink of collapse. If it weren’t for Thrawn’s death at the hands of a previously-trusted ally, the Empire might have won. But in the wake of that, Pellaeon was the remaining commander of the Imperial forces, which wound up surrendering.
Pellaeon showing up here is a massive link to both Thrawn and Zahn’s Legends books, and he looks absolutely perfect (played by Xander Berkeley), just like he did in Legends. He appeared very briefly in Rebels, in an audio-only cameo, as Thrawn’s forces were attacked by Purrgil and carried off into hyperspace. Dave Filoni said at the time that the reason he included Pellaeon as a name-drop was so that the character would be brought into the canon, hoping that a storyteller would pick up on it down the road. Turns out he would do it himself, and I’m so glad he did.
It’s unclear whether Pellaeon was taken into the Unknown Regions with Thrawn, or whether he’s simply come back into contact with the Grand Admiral since, but either way the Captain’s appearance here is a direct link to Thrawn’s emergence. It’s only a matter of time now, and I’m sure it will happen sooner than later.
The Shadow Council sows seeds of the First Order
But while Pellaeon was the biggest and most obvious inclusion on the Shadow Council, there was another very important character included as well: Commandant Brendol Hux. Let’s discuss Hux, the Shadow Council, and how it’s pointing toward the First Order to come.
The Shadow Council was formed not long after the death of Emperor Palpatine and the Empire’s defeat at the Battle of Jakku, with one of the Emperor’s advisors, Gallius Rax, assuming command of the remaining Imperial remnants scattered across the galaxy. Hux was a founding member of the Council (was was Grand Admiral Rae Sloane), which led the Imperial remnants in secret until the Battle of Jakku. Rax was killed at Jakku and the Empire was finally defeated, with the remnants (including Sloane and Hux) scattering into the Unknown Regions to rebuild in secret.
Brendol Hux was considered essential to the Empire’s return by Rax – so much so that he was rescued from a New Republic siege and given a seat on the Council. He had a history of overseeing Imperial trooper trainings, and as the remnants would rebuild in the Unknown Regions it was Hux who would play a pivotal role. At some point he would oversee the training of a stormtrooper force for the newly-formed First Order, serving as General. He ‘recruited’ (i.e. kidnapped) children from across the galaxy to train as his new military force (which means that, although not explicitly known, Hux also might just be behind the kidnapping of Lando Calrissian’s daughter). As Snoke rose to assume power of the new forces he kept Hux around to aid his efforts. But just a few years prior to the events of The Force Awakens, when the true might of the First Order would be made known to the galaxy, Hux was betrayed and killed by one of his most prized stormtrooper recruits, Captain Phasma (aided by Hux’s son, Armitage). His legacy lived on through that son, an illegitimate heir who had a broken relationship with his father, General Armitage Hux. The younger Hux was a key villain during the sequel trilogy, played by Domhnall Gleeson, and Gleeson’s brother Brian played Brendol in this episode.
All of this backstory in other canon material helps to explain why Brendol’s appearance in this episode is such a key detail. While the First Order has almost certainly not been established yet, the seeds have already been planted. Hux’s involvement with the Shadow Council is evidence of his continued service of the Imperial cause, and there is a new project mentioned in the episode that he’s interested in: Project Necromancer.
Speculating about Project Necromancer…
It’s the first we’ve heard of it, but there are a few clues. We’re venturing into some speculation for a moment, but let’s consider a few of the clues we have.
One of them is rather obvious: it’s a project about cloning. Hux asks about Doctor Pershing, but Gideon reports that Pershing won’t be of much use to them since the New Republic got to him. Of course, that’s not exactly what happened, but Gideon got to him – and perhaps that’s a power play to keep Hux from getting that info.
Next, consider the name itself. A necromancer is someone who specializes in witchcraft or sorcery particularly pertaining to the dead, and resurrection. I wonder if there’s any notable figure, presumed to be dead, whom these Imperial remnants might have an interest in reviving?
There’s a third clue, I think, and it’s more subtle. After Gideon suggests that it’s time to look for new leadership (and not Thrawn), receiving affirmation from a few others, Hux responds, “Project Necromancer is in place for that.” It seems, then, that Hux views Project Necromancer as being in place to help provide new leadership for them. Even Pellaeon, in discussing Thrawn’s return, mentions that it would buy Hux more time with the project. The implication seems to be that this project will provide the Imperial remnants with new leadership.
Which all points, I think, to Palpatine. The leader of the Empire was (presumed) killed at Endor, but he had quite an interest in cloning that we now know was an interest in cloning himself so he could realize the secrets of the Sith and live forever. So Hux and these warlords also have an interest in cloning, likely pertaining to the dead, in order to bring them the sought-after leadership. Seems like it’s all setting up an attempt to bring back their Emperor to me.
The Praetorian Guards get involved
What they probably don’t know is that Palpatine did survive and is on Exegol, but in bad shape. The Empire is likely attempting to bring him back, but they’re also amassing more military might in secret for Thrawn’s eventual return. Included among those forces are Praetorian Guards, three of which are sent to aid Moff Gideon on Mandalore and who wind up killing Paz Vizsla. These Praetorian Guards first appeared in The Last Jedi, set decades later, as the elite guards for Supreme Leader Snoke. They look very similar here, and it’s an even stronger link to the First Order and the sequel trilogy than Hux’s inclusion. We saw in The Last Jedi how these guards gave Rey and Ben Solo trouble, so it’s no wonder why Vizsla would succumb to them. These are guards who could stand toe-to-toe with skilled lightsaber users, so even though this is a much earlier version, they’re still quite the threat.
I wonder if these Praetorians will wind up serving as a sort of elite guard for Thrawn, much like they later will for Snoke. One thing is clear, though, and it’s that Jon Favreau and Dave Filoni are pulling together a ton of threads from the books (both Legends and canon) and the sequel trilogy to weave this into one coherent storyline, and The Mandalorian – as well as the rest of the Star Wars canon – is far better for it.